A mysterious trip to China


A few months ago, perhaps in April, a Penang government rep was seen checking out an autonomous rail rapid transit (ART) or trackless tram system in China. This option is believed to cost not more than one third (probably much less) than the cost of the elevated light rail system that Penang is set on acquiring at a staggering cost of “more than RM10bn”.

The state government should let us know what transpired and the outcome of the trip.

Even Sarawak is already studying the ART system.


But here in Penang, there is no serious attempt to look at alternatives to the elevated light rail. In fact, the state government’s own original transport masterplan consultants, Halcrow, had outlined a network of bus rapid transit and modern trams, which would be elevated along certain stretches.

But no, instead of modern trams, expensive elevated light rail was proposed by the project delivery consultants, who would earn 6% in fees. One of the arguments for elevated light rail is that it would not eat into existing road space, but that is not true. The pillars supporting the tracks alone would take up almost an entire lane of the road.

Some people are already so excited about ART (trackless trams) that they have even come up with a proposed route that would link mainland Penang to the island – unlike the elevated light rail, which would only be on Penang Island (from Komtar to the airport). The following suggested ART route map is circulating on social media:

A suggested ART route map that is being circulated online

Looks a lot more attractive than the single route elevated light rail that the state government is bent on pursuing at great cost to Penang and its environment, including the coastal ecology.

The federal government should serious review the plan for such an expensive elevated light rail system in Penang and instead opt for cheaper, more efficient options, perhaps first improving and expanding our existing bus and ferry system (still only four miserable ferries in operation at peak hours, compared to a dozen in the 1970s and 1980s).

Is a RM10bn elevated light rail system the best option for Penang?

In the second of a three-part series, Lim Mah Hui and Ahmad Hilmy explain why trackless trams are a better, cheaper, faster option than an elevated light rail transit system.

A fully-integrated public transport system based on the modification of the Halcrow Plan can be implemented at less than RM10bn in place of the overblown RM46bn “PTMP”.

Replacing elevated light rail with trackless trams to save RM9bn

Penang Forum consistently demands and fully supports a good public transport system. The main question is, is the elevated light rail transit (LRT) system the right choice?

After a town hall meeting in September 2018, where Penang Forum suggested that the Penang government explore replacing the LRT with autonomous rail transit (ART), the government sent a delegation to China in early 2019 to study its ART system.

To date, the public has been kept in the dark as to the findings of this study mission.

We propose that the government should at the least give the public an account of the objectives of such trips, what was learned and adopted, what was not and why. What was the cost? We await their report.

Meanwhile, the Sarawak government also sent a delegation to study the ART and has announced its intention of adopting this new technology.

Nevertheless, scholars have also visited China to study the ART. Among the most prominent is Peter Newman, who won the 2018 Western Australia Scientist of the Year award and has studied train systems for over 40 years.

Newman had this to say: “I went to China to check out the CRRC trackless tram (ART). I came back convinced it’s a transformative transit technology.”

The ART is cheaper, with researchers estimating construction costs at A$6m (RM17m) to A$8 million (RM22m) per kilometre for each set of three cars plus a station.

This is a fraction of the elevated LRT, which costs at least A$50m (RM141m) per kilometre. Penang’s elevated LRT is estimated to cost RM220m per kilometre, ie 10 times more expensive than an ART.

The ART is better, more flexible and with the same, if not higher, carrying capacity. The standard ART system is three carriages, which can carry 300 people. It can take five carriages and 500 people if needed.

The ART’s carrying capacity is estimated at 12,000-30,000 people per hour, per kilometre on a single 50km/h lane – higher than the LRT, which can carry 10,000-20,000 people per hour.

The ART is much faster to install since no tracks are needed. It operates on an autonomous optical guidance system with GPS and Lidar technologies along invisible tracks.

Trackless trams avoid the worst features of an elevated LRT system – disruption and cost. It would take an estimated six to seven years to build the Penang LRT, causing major disruptions in the state.

According to Newman, ART lines can be painted literally over a weekend. It takes a few months to build the stations, not six years. Prefabricated stations can be installed.

The ART can travel quickly and smoothly. Newman was on an ART and witnessed kids running up and down the tram aisle while it was going at 70 km/h.

Australia is studying new ways of financing the ART, with private investors paying for land along the route, road preparations, construction of tram carriages and even operations in that corridor.

In Penang, the Bayan Lepas-FTZ area is densely populated. ART corridors will benefit the private sector.

In this regard, Penang can explore joint ventures with private investors to determine the stations and route, build and operate the ART system.

“This allows for more efficient use of the infrastructure, new sources of funding, a reduction in car dependency, and increase in economic growth and productivity,” says research assistant Sebastian Davies-Slate.

The table below compares the strengths and weakness of BRT, LRT and ART. Without doubt, the ART comes up on top.

Penang has a small but strong bus-building industry. Given that the ART technology is a cross between tram and bus, Penang should explore with China the possibility of technology transfer.

In light of all the above, the Penang government must justify why it is choosing the RM9.6bn elevated LRT over technology that is better, cheaper and faster. It cannot hide behind the excuse that LRT is elevated and does not take road space.

Conclusion: ART is better, cheaper and faster.

Cost savings: RM9bn.

Lim Mah Hui is a former professor, international banker and Penang Island City Councillor for six years. Ahmad Hilmy is a transport engineer who teaches at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

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Lim Goh Poh

Simplicity and efficiency and punctuality of bus network deployed over island !

RapidPenang bigger buses on main roads, linked by another bus company running on mini electrical engines to reach out to housing estates and FTZ zones factories.

Ideal but not cash spinning way to the authority????


Mahathir first eliminated the many competing bus businesses. He in 1990s in KL, and others later in Putrajaya, helped to roll out fleets of good buses as replacement. Perhaps there was not enough commitment – as capital – from the “entrepreneurs”. Later we saw photos of a large numbers of these buses supposedly condemned at the depots. Perhaps the entrepreneurs were waiting for more handouts. This is similar to the situation in our major cash crops.


“Zakir is playing a dangerous role as an instigator. It would be best that he be returned to India. Because of him, the relationship between Malaysia and India is grim. We have a lot of other work to do,” Rais posted on his Twitter account.


Thumbs up if you agree.


Social activist Marina Mahathir is the latest to join the chorus condemning preacher Zakir Naik for calling on Chinese Malaysians to leave the country.

Marina’s tweet has attracted scores of replies, many of which urged her to advise her father Mahathir to deport the preacher.


Don Anamalai

Marina talks a lot if only she could convince her father half of what she has been saying and writing on her blog.


Malaysian singer-songwriter Francissca Peter has called on Malaysian artists to stand in solidarity in condemning racial attacks towards individuals who question the loyalty of the Chinese and Indians in this country.

“I urge Malaysian artists from all cultural and religious backgrounds to stand in solidarity in condemning this latest racial hate attack by a specific non-Malaysian and individuals who question the loyalty of Chinese and Indian Malaysians.


Fugitive Zakir Naik, you are not welcomed here!
Go back to where you slithered from hissing instigations wherever you slither.
This one for you: Eruption – One Way Ticket 1978 (High Quality)


Malaysians must not allow the opinion of “one irrelevant foreigner” divide the country, says Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz.

“Why are Malaysians going against each other on account of some foreigner who is being sought after by his own country?

“Why are some of us still so vulnerable to have our minds being subverted in so many ways, seemingly in the name of religion?


Bible: There is one who speaks rashly, like a piercing sword; but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
But sadly, some are so eager for more of such rash speaking, never mind that the speeches are only in Indian English incomprehensible to them in full proper meaning. That’s where the danger (of misinterpretation) lies leading to hatred & violence instigated by such foreign preachers.


Zakir’s ‘lecture’ is in English. Not sure how many local audience can understand what he says. Maybe the likes of Firdaus Wong will be there to provide translation? As a Malaysian PR, Zakir should learn to speak in Malay since many Malays have insisted that non-Malays here must master the language.


Special privilege for this preacher even if he speaks Indiangelish! Never mind that the rural Malay folks who come to listen but may not understand a rolling tongue speech. Such is a privilege that Malaysian nons are denied since Merdeka!

Don Anamalai

PAS should support at least teaching of Science and Maths in English. Else it’s youngsters could not comprehend what Zakir is saying….


This is what Zakir said in Kelantan that insulted the Malaysian Indians:

Lim Goh Poh

One Way Ticket was a hot hit song during which time song lovers shrieked out for more boogie moments.

Ottawan’s D.I.S.C.O. also a joyful tune for many probably Wei can ask his father to play the cassete tape.


You mean Wei & Shriek share the same shrieking father??? 🙂 🙂 🙂
Btw, shrieking (in pure joy + excitement) in the 60s is not the same as shrieking (in red-anger & frothing) & he-he-he (in sarcasm) now!


Both of them could be too young to live through the Disco era. Here is that famous Botak Disco (an indispensable cassette in late 70s/early eighties for every Walkman) for them to appreciate the tunes and ‘move it’ to the beat, no need to drop the mic:

Lim Goh Poh

Funky Town was such a popular hits.
Wei do check out this song.
Wonder during the disco era Anil got listdn to such songs?


Anil must be wearing bell bottom pants then – sweeping the floor as he was walking!

Listen to the ground
There is movement all around
There is something goin’ down
And I can feel it…

Then I get night fever, night fever
We know how to do it
Gimme that night fever, night fever
We know how to show it

Jim Bean

Very nolstagic indeed Saturday Night Fever and Staying Alive era.

Today music really sucks!
Thanks for the memory.

Don Anamalai

Disco music never die.

My favourite is Le Freak by Chic.

Tunglang should know this group Chic, not just the bearded ZZ Top (by the way, it’s ‘Legs’ video is great. Heavy rotation on MTV in the 80s).


In the late 70s, Rediffusion aired its (latest) disco music programme every Friday late afternoon (5pm – 6pm?). Was it called Top of the Pops? Around that time RAAF Radio Butterworth was also airing its music-loaded programmes for the its Air Force personnels & families in northern region. The DJs were mostly Australian teenagers (15 – 18 yrs old) but they did a great pro-job. My favourite time was Friday night when RAAF Radio aired its non-stop “Night Beat” till the next morning! You ain’t get the latest pop music in RTM, which usually ‘went to sleep’ at midnight sharp… Read more »


Hey, still remember Sha Na Na?
Either you love it, hate it or both!
Sha Na Na – Ding-a-Ling-a-Ling-Ding-Dong


Ride your horse to “Old Town Road”, the current hit song with the record longest weeks at #1 on singles chart:

Hip hop meets country.


Zakir please note that your comments have also offended the Johor Royalty that has Chinese lineage.



Looks like Anil has inside info from Penang government – deep state?

Anyway Anilnetto.com is becoming like Astro, plenty of repeat and recycle stuff. Need to freshen up with food talk.


Autonomous rail rapid transit (ART) can only run without delays on minimum 2-3 lanes roads (one way street), one lane dedicated to ART. Or 4-6 lanes roads (2 way street). This will be a challenge to run ART in Penang’s streets as many streets will have to be converted to one way. And many roadside parking lots will also have to go. Also, the wayward riding of motorcyclists (riding on pedestrian paths, zig-zagging, riding against the flow of traffic, parking anywhere, daredevil speeding across the front of vehicles) may endanger the smooth running of ART. Are ART’s tyres pneumatic (aired… Read more »


Recap from around 2014 on propaganda points: – MRT/LRT does not moves people at a higher rate. Estimates (a) evade dedicated BRT/ART lanes (b) compare the MRT/LRT corridors having the heaviest traffic to the BRT network of individial roads (c) cover the entire day, irrelevant to rush hour. – MRT/LRT provides good urban access only on major (ideal) routes. Even there, stations may be badly located due to politics or cronyism. Car parks become inadequate. MRT/LRT perpetuates the even more expensive, destructive and subversive triad of private cars, roads and petroleum industries. The drawbacks of even the current bus transport… Read more »


Tell us how to have brt on major roads like Penang road? Remove all shop houses on both sides??MRT or LRT build above or tunnel. Brt although is cheap but requires drive more drivers and even tickect sellers for ART. You want Viet or banglas to sell or drove ART?


hehe…banker Lim mah hui probably read one page brochure with lots of colourful picture and decided it is the best system in the world….LOL

Gurdev singh

Mr netto why


If too cheap, cannot kill ‘2 birds’ with one stone – 6-lanes-highways, hill tunnels, sea tunnel, LRT + you name it plus 3-Fantasy Islands with high end property to show case ‘we have arrived with Mr Tatoo’. Am I wrong, CM Chow?


hehe…nothing wrong with 2 birds one stone or even better 3 birds one stone …as long as it is not 1/2 bird one stone of your cheapo bus system…LOL if you want cheap go for thousands of mini buses jamming penang street lar…that is even cheaper.. as the government of day, the responsibility and burden is on them to get that transport plan right…what is that banker’s responsibility if their bus system fail? as a banker he may know a thing a two about squeezing every penny from people’s pocket with interest here interest there fee here fee there without… Read more »


There was a government initiative (with a private sector) to build transport buses in Kulim if I can recall that when I visited the place to study its setup for an A&M proposal project for a client. The chief officer was a kwei-lou (ang moh) plus an engineer also a kwei-lou. The rest were locals probably 3-D designers & workshop staff in a hangar-like building.
What’s happened to it till now I don’t know. That was in the 2000 decade, maybe 2006.


Ask susu teh. He is bn gilakan or bn mca. A lot of kang tau. Kang tau dried up and now he is screaming for being thirst.


Yes can save money but at expense of global warning. Read Syd morning herald. Less than 20 years, roads in north Syd will be jammed
If ART will orso jammed.
Even if roads are not jammed, they will be delayed not running according to schedule. Worst, we do not have a single ticketing system. Then back to square one like tu Lang waiting for more than half hour for the ART


Peter Newman did not quantify the cost to existing business, loss to residents from gentrification, and loss of local charm for residents and tourists. This may be the final nail in the coffin of World Heritage status for George Town. There will be more accidents and delays (due to construction and subsequent narrower roads), pollution-related diseases, and cheap immigrant lives lost (from relentless cutting of corners). Recent construction incidents show that the party responsible only pays a few tens of thousands of RM at most for one life. Perer Newman’s summary does not include speed and throughput. Instead, he includes… Read more »